For climbing enthusiast, Saudi Arabia offers up a wealth of options

Time: 15 September 2020

  • It is more of a sport which is learned from other people and through experience

JEDDAH: Fear has held many people back from enjoying even the simplest activities with friends and family such as swimming, going to theme parks and many more.

Nasser Al-Zuhufi, a 29-year-old Saudi, told Arab News he had always been a scared anxious child and fear hindered him from joining in the fun with the rest of his friends and family members.

He decided to break away from his fears unconventionally. He picked up the adrenaline pumping sports rock climbing.

“For as long as I could remember, I was always scared of everything, literally everything. Cats, the mountainous road driving to Taif, speed and rollercoasters. They were unexplained fears. There were no reasons behind them.

“Growing up, this feeling bothered me so much, that I’m holding this much fear. I even adjusted my life to suit my fears, like when I’d go to the theme park, I’d only go to the arcade, not the rollercoasters.”

One day, he decided to face his fears one by one and rode his first rollercoaster at 24 when he was studying in the US.

“It was the first time I felt like I faced a fear. I decided I’ll try it and there’s no going back no matter how I feel. After that, I felt this amazing empowering feeling, it was so liberating. I never felt an adrenaline rush before. That 5-minute experience changed my life.”

His first rock-climbing experience outdoors was in Al-Shafa, a village in Makkah in the summer of 2019.

“The first time I climbed, I feared the height of the rock. I felt like I was going too high too fast and I had to take it very slow to get used to it at the moment. The fear was not overwhelming and it all went away when I reached the end of the route,” he said.

Al-Zuhufi’s most difficult climb was in Lebanon, and he said it was both physically and emotionally stressful. He highlighted the importance of trust between climbers and belayers.

Zaki Kazmi has trained many people for various levels of climbing. (Photo/Supplied)

“Physical because the route was very high so it drained my muscles by the time I got to the hardest point in the route, and emotional because the whole area was new to me, I was climbing with people that I had met for the first time so I did not spend enough climbing time with them to build the trust needed between the climber and belayer.”  “And I never finished that route,” he added.

Saudi-based couple from Pakistan 30-year-old civil engineer Zaki Kazmi and 24-year-old biologist Arshia Zahra Akhtar created an Instagram page (@ our_monkey_business) that documented their rock-climbing adventures in the Kingdom.

The couple said the climbing community is small in general and particularly in the Kingdom, however, it is now rapidly growing.

“It is more of a sport which is learned from each other and through experience. Thus, we always welcomed and supported new climbers. For 8 years in Saudi, I have already trained many people for various levels of climbing, especially outdoors. My wife has also served as a trainer for indoor climbing at a local ladies’ gym, Riyadh,” Kazmi told Arab News.

“We welcome and are available to guide anyone who is interested in the sport or just wants to try the experience,” he added.

Kazmi said he enjoyed climbing in Tanomah, a small town in the south, between Baha and Abha. “I call it the “Yosemite of Saudi Arabia”. I first climbed there in 2016 before it was completely developed by the Saudi Climbing Foundation.”

“The supportive community, dynamic landscape and the rapid development of new climbing places should position Saudi Arabia in one of the top adventure travel destinations.”

He said rock climbing is therapeutic and a chance to connect with nature, away from city distractions.

“Rock climbing is a sport which is nearest to nature. It gives climbers a chance to get away from the city lights and hustle-bustle and get their dose of weekly meditation. It is not just a sport of physical exertion, but also mental strength. A person can strengthen their mental and physical health with continuous climbing therapy.”

Akhtar is currently pursuing her MD/Ph.D. in the US and continues to rock climb there. She said the Kingdom has ideal rock climbing spots and the Saudi climbing community is extremely supportive and welcoming.

“I have climbed in Massachusetts and Texas in the US, while studying here, and I can say Saudi Arabia does have quality rock climbing locations. The country has endless potential and so many places are yet to be explored, so it is definitely a hidden gem,” she told Arab News.

“The Saudi climbing community is extremely supportive and welcoming, along with the availability of a vast range of climbing and bouldering routes. So if you are an adrenaline junkie, looking for new climbing routes and are down to explore untouched places; you need to climb in Saudi,” she added.

This article was first published in Arab News

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